IDIA (Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access to Legal Education) has been a pioneer in the struggle for elimination of inequities in education. Since its inception, IDIA has not just reached out to several marginalized and under-represented groups, helping them dream a dream that was until now the privilege of only a handful, it has also helped several such dreamers to achieve the unthinkable.
IDIA has now come up with a promising new public interest litigation initiative, drawing from an earlier project that used to be run from NUJS, Kolkata called P-PIL (Promoting Public Interest Lawyering). This initiative will form a part of IDIA’s CHAMP project, which was piloted a year ago, with the intention of providing to its scholars the essential leadership qualities that our mainstream educational ecosystem is woefully inept at cultivating.
The key idea behind this initiative is to enable IDIA scholars to advocate for their communities and other public interest causes, whilst still in Law School. To this end, the scholars will work alongside IDIA student volunteers, directors, pro-bono lawyers, law faculty and various others, in order to synergistically achieve shared public interest outcomes.
Unlike a lot of organizations that start off with intentions of empowering the underpowered, and fizzle out soon after, IDIA’s latest initiative comes forth as merely structuring of a phenomenon that it had ignited long ago. It intends to put together an arsenal at its disposal, a feat that seems achievable in view of the strides that it has already taken, and the vision that has been its driving force since its inception.
One of its very first litigations, after IDIA was institutionalised as a trust, was when Mr. Donnie Ashok, a second batch IDIA scholar, had taken Gujarat National Law University to the Court for its arbitrary admissions policy, after GNLU refused him entry despite a great CLAT score. With Gujarat High Court’s intervention, the College accepted its “mistake” and gave him admission. Donnie has since proven to be an extraordinary talent, having been the architect of the IDIA website, and the brain behind SuperLawyer
Prof. Shamnad Basheer had himself stepped into the eye of the storm surrounding the CLAT exam catastrophe, when he filed a PIL seeking a permanent CLAT body and transparency in the exam. The matter is pending before the Supreme Court, and was till recently argued pro-bono by Senior Advocate K.K. Venugopal, assisted by Advocate Gopal Sankaranarayanan and Advocate-on-Record (AoR) Liz Mathew.
Besides, IDIA, being the fairy God mother that it is to its scholars, has rendered its guidance to them at every step of their careers. It was instrument in getting a stay against the Bar Council of India notification which had fixed an age limit for law courses. It had fought, not just for its scholar, Michael Sam, an orphan who started out on education late in life, but had redeemed the hopes and dreams of several such aspirants throughout the country. The matter was argued pro bono by Mr. Kapil Sibal.
Subsequently, exclusion of blind candidates from the Indian Judiciary was also challenged by IDIA before the High Court of Judicature at Hyderabad, after a first batch IDIA scholar Nagababu was told that only the sighted were fit enough to dispense justice. The matter is pending before the Court, and IDIA is being represented pro-bono by Mr. Vivek Reddy.
More recently, IDIA managed to make significant inroads into a hugely notorious bastion of bigotry and bias, with a case concerning the sexual assault of a minor girl in remote Rajasthan. While the accused had initially gone scot-free, he was soon enough put to his place by the Jodhpur High Court, which told the Public Prosecutor, in no uncertain terms, that the cops must act.
Ruling on a Petition under Section 482 of Cr.P.C., Justice Pushpendra Singh Bhati recently observed, “At the outset, learned Public Prosecutor submits that the status report which reflects that necessary investigation has been made and prima facie the petitioner has been found guilty of offence alleged by the present petitioner. It also reflects that serious efforts are going on for arresting the accused.
Moreover, learned Public Prosecutor assures this Court that there shall be no laxity on the part of the officer or the prosecution in carrying on with the proceedings against accused persons.”
The stride has been attributed to a former IDIA team leader from NUJS, Mr. Manohar Lal Solanki, and his brother, Trilok, who is now an IDIA scholar in his first year at NLU, Orissa. The research team was led by Prof. Basheer, and included Trilok, Svetlana Correya (IDIA Consultant), Abhay Jain (IDIA Fellow) and IDIA student volunteers from NLU Jodhpur.
With this case, IDIA now hopes to advocate public interest causes in a more institutionalised manner, arming its scholars with the arsenal that it puts together, while still continuing steadfast on the mission it had set out for itself.